A memorial to a much-loved homeless man brought out hundreds of people to the bandstand in Memorial Peace Park on Wednesday night, and, one by one, they mounted the stairs and offered their remembrances.
The memorial was illuminated by candlelight. Tea lights were dropped into the bottom of donated convenience store pop cups.
It was fitting, because “Pete,” as everyone knew him, could often be found sitting in his wheelchair outside of a 7-Eleven or Chevron gas station.
The crowd formed around the bandstand, and each person spoke about what Pete meant to them. They told about how they would offer him money, and he would refuse, sometimes just happy to take a coffee or hot chocolate.
One man said he would buy Pete a beer or a cigar outside the beer store. Other times, Pete would say he was good.
“Because he was taken care of, by everyone else. We all took care of Pete, didn’t we,” he said, with his voice cracking.
The memorial lasted for almost an hour.
Pete’s sister Brenda was overwhelmed by the “amazing outpouring.
“You all knew him as homeless Pete. I knew him as my brother,” she said. “I knew him as someone who I so looked up to, and I idolized him. He was my big brother.”
She remembered, when they were young, how Pete would put out an electric blanket for his doberman, Merlin, to sleep on.
“Pete always had this huge, huge heart – he just loved,” she said.
“You know, homeless people have families,” she added. “It was never our desire to see him on the road. I remember my dad and how his heart would break. His heart would break every time he drove past Pete. It hurt him. I remember him struggling so badly to bring Pete home, to make sure Pete had what my dad thought he needed.”
She talked to Pete, and asked him to come home for Christmas.
“He said, ‘Brenda, I can’t come home. This is my home. These are my people. This is my family, and I don’t want to go inside, and I don’t want to go anywhere else,'” she said.
“So you were his family, by choice,” she told the crowd. “He loved the streets of Maple Ridge. This was his home.
“When I see the love that’s been poured out here tonight, I understand why he wanted to be there.”
One of the first speakers wrote a poem for Pete.
Some of the lines:
“Cigarettes and a coffee, he was in heaven,
I bought him quite a few at the 7-Eleven
Gonna miss you Pete, you made me feel good,
With a couple of words like ‘knock on wood.’
One large, two sugars and a double double cream,
Good day, good day was all he would say.“
Another speaker said people offered to bring Pete home for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, “and he always refused. He was more comfortable sitting outside the 7-Eleven.
“Pete, you’re warm now. You’re dry. You have nothing to worry about.”
One woman thanked everyone who showed up for the memorial.
“Because he meant something, and this is who we are in Maple Ridge. This is Maple Ridge. We are a caring community. Thank you, Pete, for giving us that. Thank you, God, for giving us Pete.”
Rene Baynes knew Pete for 20 years, and he would come by the Rona lumber yard where she worked to chat.
“He was a good storyteller, when he felt up to it,” she said.
The outpouring of love for Pete on social media has been heartwarming, she added.
“I was so happy so many people stepped up and showed they were friendly with him, and he meant something to them.”
Pete’s sister Sandy also spoke, thanking the crowd.
“Pete would have been overwhelmed, and the smile on his face … I can just see it.”